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June 7, 2002
By Marty Mulcahy
We reported in March that a new and improved federal standard to improve sanitary facilities on construction job sites is "dead in the water," according to an OSHA representative.
The standard would have mandated the placement of hand-washing stations or antiseptic gel dispensers within or next to portable toilets on construction sites, while lowering the ratio of toilets-per-worker to one in 10 from one in 40.
OSHA dismissed years of effort by the building trades to improve the standard, using government-speak to drop the matter from the regulatory agenda "due to resource constraints and other priorities."
With the matter suddenly off the table on the federal level, the OSHA rep we talked to suggested that as an alternative, Michigan's state health and safety rules could be updated to include the better sanitation standards. In order for that to happen, the nine-member Michigan Construction Safety Standards Commission would have to develop and approve any changes.
"Forget about it," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "As it stands now, the majority of that commission is not voluntarily going to do anything to help working men and women."
Appointed by Gov. John Engler, the committee is supposed to be made up of four management representatives, four labor representatives, and one public employer representative. But two of the supposed labor representatives are owners of small companies.
The only representative on the panel from organized labor is the commission's vice chairman, Carl Davis, a Plumbers Local 98 member who is an assistant general foreman for the Detroit Public School District. With the improved federal sanitation standard going nowhere, he said he would heed our request and look into getting a better standard adopted in the Michigan. But he offered little hope that it would happen any time soon.
"I have strong feelings about this," Davis said. "I know there are some employers who have the attitude that 'hey, your hands are just going to get dirty again, anyway.' But I feel that a worker should be able to wash after he uses a bathroom, especially if they go just before they eat lunch."
Currently, construction workers have the unfortunate distinction among nearly all U.S. industries in that their employers are not required to provide them with even the most rudimentary method to wash their hands. On some smaller construction sites, employers are not required to provide any bathroom facilities at all. The closest fast food restaurant, or more likely, the nearest ditch or behind the nearest tree, sometimes are the only facilities available.
Some forward-thinking construction employers provide employees with heated toilet trailers that have hooks for clothes, private stalls and hot running water - but demanding anything that "extravagant" for all construction job sites when state law doesn't even require hand-washing areas seems like an impossible dream.
Davis said it's rare that MIOSHA's construction standards deviate from federal standards, although it has happened (see related article on the headache ball). The first step toward making a change, he said, is a little research to check which of the commission's committees has jurisdiction over the sanitation standard. Then, he said once the language for a new proposed standard is written and is placed before the proper committee, expect "a long, slow process" in making the rule change, Davis said. The commission's next meeting is in the second week in July.
Boensch said realistically, "nothing is going to happen until next year, when we will hopefully get a more worker-friendly administration in Lansing and improve the makeup of the Construction Safety Standards Commission."
Michigan voters go to the polls to elect a new governor in
the Nov. 5 general election.
By Marty Mulcahy
While Michigan's Hardhats may not get any immediate help from the state in improving construction sanitation standards, the trades and MIOSHA have put their heads together with the headache ball.
For years, contrary to existing federal OSHA rules, MIOSHA has in some circumstances allowed iron workers in Michigan to stand on a crane's headache ball and ride it to a higher elevation as a building's frame is assembled.
Now, a revised steel erection standard by OSHA is being implemented nationwide that makes several changes for iron workers. MIOSHA will be adopting virtually the entire OSHA steel erection standard - except the state agency will continue to resist federal rule makers and allow iron workers to ride the ball.
"We will allow you to ride the headache ball," said Doug Earle, director of the Bureau of Safety and Regulation of the Michigan Dept. of Consumer and Industry Services. Speaking during the 11th annual Construction Safety Day earlier this year. As quoted by the Great Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Association, Earle said that he expected "to take some heat from the federal government for permitting the practice."
Carl Davis, a Plumbers Local 98 member who is vice chairman of the state Construction Safety Standards Commission, said last month that the decision on riding the headache ball was not without controversy.
"It's rare that we deviate from federal OSHA, and when we talked about riding the headache ball, there was a real split on the committee," he said. "Some of them were even talking about putting a platform on the ball. But in the end, the people in the business decided that a lot of times riding the ball is the safest way for a worker to get where he needs to go."
States are allowed to write more stringent plans than those released by federal OSHA, and are offered some leeway in interpretation. The prevailing wisdom in Michigan is that in some circumstances during steel erection, iron workers are safer riding the ball while making initial connections than they would be climbing a ladder.
Iron Workers Local 25 Apprenticeship Coordinator Doug Levack said a written fall protection plan by an employer must include provisions for the use of a headache ball in order for workers to legally be able to ride the ball.
"In all my years as an iron worker, I've never seen anyone
ever fall off the ball," said Levack, who strongly supports
MIOSHA's position. "Sometimes it's the safest, most efficient
way to do the work."
By Marty Mulcahy
DELTA TWP. - By the first quarter of next year, General Motors will have a plant that can't be touched when it comes to bending and shaping automotive sheet metal.
The G.M. Lansing Regional Stamping Facility is a 708,000 square-foot plant under construction, which will provide most of the major body sheet metal to the new, nearby Grand River Assembly Plant. About 50 percent of the stamping plant's capacity will be shipped to other North American assembly operations.
GM Project Leader Dale Griffith and Project Manager Tom Arnold said there are about 300 construction workers on the project - about half are constructing the building and the other half are installing the presses. The Washington Group is acting as construction manager on the project.
"I can't give enough praise to the Lansing area building trades," said Griffith. "They've been nothing but supportive on this project, and the tradespeople have been very good."
Griffith also oversaw construction of the newest G.M. stamping plant, which was built in Atlanta in 1997. "We learned a lot after we built the plant in Georgia," Griffith said.
G.M. is spending $230 million on the Lansing Regional Stamping Plant, which will be its first with automatic transfer presses. Two of the facility's four lines are "Double A" presses, which are the largest in the world. Griffith said each press can quickly stamp a flat section of steel in five stages under 6,500 tons of pressure, possibly forming a vehicle's roof, sidewall, trunk or hood in just about any shape that G.M. designers can dream up.
For example, this plant will be used to form the sidewall of the newly redesigned Cadillac CTS in one continuous section - G.M.'s stamping operations currently do not have that capability. The CTS is being built at the Grand River plant.
Slightly more than half of the plant's footprint will be devoted to storage of the finished product. As they're needed, the fenders will be shipped via truck to G.M. manufacturing facilities. The stamping plant will employ 200-250 workers.
"In a sense, our job so far has been simple," Griffith said. "We're basically providing a flat area for the presses, a roof to keep the rain out, and heat and lights for workers. The real core of this plant is the stamping process."
Construction work began on the stamping plant in July 2000, but when the economy hit the skids, G.M. halted work for six months. "The economy slowed for a while, but we're back on track," said Washington Group Project Director Lou Troendle. "Overall, we've worked almost 600,000 man-hours without lost time, and that's a pretty good record. The people on this project have worked hard on making this a safe job, and we're proud of that."
The stamping plant is part of an anticipated $1 billion investment in new construction on G.M.'s 1,100-acre Delta Township site. G.M. has also announced its intention to build its second totally new vehicle assembly operation in the U.S. since the Saturn plant in Tennessee was completed in 1986. The next plant constructed was the Lansing Grand River plant, which was completed last year.
Jerry Elson, vice president of GM's North America Car Group
Operations, said the new manufacturing plant will be approximately
2.2 million square-feet, and include a body shop, paint shop,
and general assembly building.
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Senate on May 23 passed Fast Track legislation, 66-30, rejecting most pro-worker amendments along the way.
Passage disappointed the AFL-CIO, which lobbied hard against the law. Fast Track grants the president special authority to negotiate trade deals and denies Congress any opportunity to correct flaws, including lack of worker or environmental protection.
But the pro-worker rejections on May 21-23 were overshadowed
by one big labor win the
"This bill represents a giant step backwards even from
present trade laws,"
He called it "a shortsighted decision which again places
Nevertheless, labor won when lawmakers adopted an amendment
by Sens. Mark
That flies in the face of what GOP President George W. Bush
and the GOP-run
On May 22-23, workers picked up two more wins. First, Sen.
Then, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) added "protecting
The Senate bill now goes to a conference to iron out differences
between it and the House bill that narrowly passed, 215-214,
in December. The House version of the bill is considered even
weaker on workers' rights and environmental protection than the
A trio of union-built Michigan projects were honored for excellence
in steel construction in the 2002 Steel Systems Excellence Awards.
Presentation of the winners was made by the Great Lakes Fabricators and Erectors Association (GLFEA) during the May 16-19 annual meeting of the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers at Boyne Highlands. This year's competition covered projects between Jan. 1, 1999 through Dec. 31, 2001.
Following are descriptions of each project:
The State of Michigan Hall of Justice: The building was designed by Albert Kahn Associates and Spillis Candela and Partners, and has involved general contractor Christman Construction and Douglas Steel Fabricating.
The 281,000 square-foot structure consolidates state judicial functions by combining the Michigan Supreme Court and the state's Court of Appeals in one building. All of the steel framing for the six-story building was erected in just over 18 weeks.
More than 2,900 tons of structural steel were used to frame the curved lines of the building and support its 14,000 limestone panels. The unique, curved shape of the Hall of Justice was formed by complex steel bump-outs at every floor. The bump-outs acted as a pour stop for floor concrete, and close scrutiny was necessary to make sure there was no interference created between the floor slab and the windows.
Mesaba Hangar: In May 2000 a strong storm blew down an exterior wall at the Mesaba Airlines Hangar facility, collapsing the roof on an airplane parked inside. The following day, a representative from the structural engineering firm of Ruby & Associates and MBM Fabricators inspected the damage. Temporary shoring towers were installed to support the roof, and allow the aircraft to be moved out. MBM then dismantled the hangar's roofing system.
Walbridge-Aldinger served as the design-build contractor on the reconstruction, with architectural services provided by Farrand and Associates. In less than three months, a new 220-foot wide by 70-foot deep facility was designed, fabricated and erected, and Mesaba got an additional 8,500 feet of hangar space.
The structural steel systems for the expanded hangar were erected just inside the standing walls to maximize re-use of the existing facility. The new structural elements also provided bracing for the existing walls, with an innovate connection system.
Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts: Completed in 2001, the performing arts center is framed with approximately 750 tons of structural steel. The new 60,000-square-foot building serves as an introduction to the Michigan Tech campus to visitors approaching from the east.
The 1,200-seat center features a metal clad roofing system that breaks into a series of multi-faceted roofing areas over the lobby space. It's not uncommon for the Houghton area to receive 360 inches of snow in a typical winter, so the roof was made to support weight in excess of 450 lbs. per square foot.
For good acoustics, 12-inch pre-cast hollow-core slabs were placed between the roof trusses. A 30-ton, sound-damped moveable shell rotates from the back stage wall.
Other features include eyebrow ceiling framing, a concave and stepped-backed floor deck in front of the stage and a weaving lobby store-front.
DiClemente Siegel Design Inc. served as the project's architect,
structural engineering was provided by Desai/Nasr Consulting
Engineers, and the steel erector was Gundlach Champion.
Ground was broken May 17 on the Michigan Labor Legacy Project in Detroit, which will be a public work of art that will honor working men and women, describe labor's heritage and "inspire the public with labor's vision for the future," according to project president Gerald Banton.
The artwork, called "Transcend," will feature a stainless-steel open arch standing 60 feet above ground between West Jefferson and Hart Plaza. It will include 14 large, natural boulders holding bronze castings that depict labor's story.
One visually interesting feature of the sculpture will be a "spark," created by two lights dancing between the two uppermost points of the arch, which will be left open to represent labor's unfinished work. Inside the arcs will be gears, each containing quotations appropriate to labor.
The artwork, by sculptors David Barr and Sergio DeGiusti, was chosen from among 50 proposals submitted in an anonymous national competition.
Greater Detroit Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin said at the groudbreaking, "the monument is a long overdue symbol of the strength and solidarity of organized labor."
Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Donald Boggs said the project is a great way to "honor working men and women, past, present and future."
Also on hand was Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who said
organized labor is filled with "ordinary people doing extraordinary
things. Thank God for organized labor."
World Trade Center's final beam removed
For months the 30-foot-tall vertical column was covered by a portion of the 1.8-million-ton mountain of debris. As the pile shrank the column stood where it was erected in the south tower 30 years ago.
Over the last few months, the beam was used as a mast for a U.S. flag. It was also covered with spray-painted messages and photos of victims.
"It means a lot to people - it's like a flag, it represents our country and an idea. The idea of the beam is our strength, our resilience," said Richard Streeter, an operator at the site since Sept. 12.
Hundreds of construction workers watched as the column was severed with a torch, draped with a flag and a wreath and placed onto a flatbed truck. The iron section will go into storage and may be used in a memorial.
"The construction workers who have dedicated themselves to this effort are on the verge of completing an enormous job, and in many ways this is their night to reflect and remember," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg .
For months the site was one of the most dangerous construction
sites in the U.S. - but only 35 of the 1,500 workers at the site
were seriously injured, and none of the injuries were life threatening.
About 25 union demonstrators hand-billed Pulte Homes' annual meeting in Troy, letting shareholders walking into the conference know what's going on in the trenches where Pulte's homes are being constructed.
The AFL-CIO, which had a hand in organizing the demonstration, is accusing one of Pulte's Arizona subcontractors, Metric Roofing, of paying workers poor wages and benefits, cheating workers out of wages, denying them drinking water, and routinely firing those workers who speak up to complain.
"Housing developers like Pulte Homes Corp. are ultimately accountable for the practices of the roofing contractors that they hire to help build their houses," a statement from the AFL-CIO said. "The abuse of workers by roofing contractors is a direct reflection on Pulte and Pulte cannot turn a blind eye to these contractors' bad practices."
The Roofers say Pulte leaders have made no move to improve
the situation for workers.